HOLYOKE — It was, in many ways, a uniquely American tragedy. Trung Tran, known to his friends as Michael, was a striving and ascendant immigrant, a family man who had just bought a house on a suburban cul-de-sac when, without warning or reason, he was fatally shot.
The man who allegedly killed Tran, Kenneth Rodriguez, had a license for his 9mm Glock, according to the Springfield police. But it is a mystery why he felt the need to carry it — in a holster on his left hip — into a nail salon in the Holyoke Mall on Jan. 28.
Rodriguez, a 23-year-old from Springfield, had gone to A Touch of Beauty salon with his girlfriend. They sat side by side in high-backed chairs for pedicures. Tran attended to the girlfriend while a female employee worked on Rodriguez, according to Hoang Vo, one of the salon’s managers.
Not long after, a man barged in and confronted the couple. The man, believed to be the woman’s ex-boyfriend, accused her of “sleeping around,” according to a police report.
Employees started backing away, Vo said. But Tran, at the couple’s feet when the confrontation began, was nearby when the man appeared to punch Rodriguez, who reached for his gun and fired two wild shots, according to Vo and the police.
Bystanders screamed. The ex-boyfriend fled. Tran took two steps and collapsed, Vo said.
The salon’s receptionist and another employee rushed to him and pressed towels against the wound, where a bullet had entered his torso. “They were trying to hold the blood in,” Vo said.
As Tran bled, the women, panicking, told him over and over that they didn’t know what to do, Vo said. Tran, he said, tried to put them at ease. “It’s OK,” he told them. “It’s OK.”
“Those were his last words,” Vo said.
At the salon — where many of the employees are Vietnamese and Tran’s son often hung out while his father worked — many people have quit since the shooting, Vo said. “We’re all just devastated.”
Tran came to the United States as an adult with the help of his father, who had emigrated from Vietnam before him, Vo said. He settled in West Springfield, home to a large Vietnamese community, and began working as a manicurist.
By the time Tran started working at the Vo family business around five years ago, Vo said, he was in his late 20s, married to a fellow Vietnamese immigrant, and had a toddler son.
He worked six or seven days a week and did little else, said Vo’s brother, Tony, who was Tran’s supervisor. “He just worked hard to save money to buy a house for his family,” Hoang Vo said.
Last summer, Tran accomplished his goal. Along with his wife and his father, also manicurists, he bought a modest home in a quiet West Springfield neighborhood, according to public records.
“They built their establishment here from nothing,” Vo said of the Tran family.
Rodriguez, the alleged shooter, lived on the other side of the Connecticut River, in a public housing development in Springfield.
One afternoon last week, the development, known as the Robinson Gardens homes, was quiet except for an unmarked sedan rolling slowly along the streets. The driver identified herself as a law enforcement officer and said she was in the neighborhood for a matter unrelated to the Holyoke Mall shooting.
Nearby, Brian Mendrala tossed two garbage bags into a dumpster. He was helping out his children’s mother, who lives in the development, he said. The neighborhood was generally pleasant, he said, except for the periodic outbursts of violence.
At Rodriguez’s home, a small townhouse of brick and metal siding where he lives with his girlfriend, according to public records, the light on the stoop was on. But no one answered the door.
When police reached the Holyoke Mall Saturday evening, they found shoppers streaming toward them. Some were screaming, according to police reports. Others slowed down to direct the officers to the salon.
There, in a back room, they found Rodriguez. One officer took him to the floor while another pointed a rifle at him. After he was handcuffed, Rodriguez started talking, according to the police. He said that he had fired the shots, and that it had been a matter of self-defense, according to authorities. The man who attacked him had flashed a gun, he said.
None of the salon’s employees saw a second gun, Vo said.
Rodriguez has been charged with murder and is being held without bail. (His lawyer declined to comment.)
After Rodriguez was handcuffed, an officer checked on Tran, who was lying in a pool of blood, according to police reports. He couldn’t find a pulse.
The killing has shattered the Tran family. A friend who flew in to help said she had barely been able to coax Tran’s wife from the house for funeral preparations.
At the Tran household last week, Tran’s father, Buong, greeted visitors who arrived to pay respects. One man parked his pickup truck at the curb and, head down, walked toward the house.
The elder Tran opened the front door and led the man and other visitors into a room that was empty except for a few folding chairs and, against one wall, a shrine to his son: a photo of Tran, smiling; bowls of fruit and rice; flowers; and two lit candles stood on a secretary desk. A small stereo played Buddhist chants.
The father lit incense sticks and handed them to the visitors to place in a pebble-filled vase.
Then he escorted them out through the kitchen where, on the countertop, an orange note card rested on the black stone.
“Michael,” someone had written on the card in black ink. “My heart is broken! You didn’t deserve this!”
Jeremiah Manion and Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
Mike Damiano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.